Fred waited for the doctor and as the cold crept from the metal emergency room examining table through his pant legs to his thighs he went through his well-rehearsed spiel: he was not some crazy animal rights activist, he was not interested in taming these wild creatures or in running off into the wilderness, he was a vegetarian and was studying the migratory habits of the black-capped chickadee and the white-breasted nuthatch. He did not know if the doctor would be convinced: he seemed nuts and the white-breasted nuthatch seemed the dead giveaway. The raccoon bite throbbed and he regarded it with a detached sympathy. He was used to feeling empathy for the baby robins that hopped unsteadily at the edge of the tree branches, and for the crows that lay, shocked and silenced, on the side of the road, wings outspread even after impact, as if dreaming about the next flight–

The doctor, a young woman with blond hair pulled back in a ponytail not dissimilar to the cedar waxwing’s tail feathers, peeked her head around the examining room curtain. “Knock, knock,” she said brightly, and he tried to look normal and unaffected by the rabies.


If Fred were really honest with himself he would admit that the trouble had really started ten years before the day he drove himself to the hospital with what he assumed to be rabies. And, really, it had started even before that, before he’d learned to toddle much further than his mother’s reach. As a baby Fred had stood in his crib, gripping the top rail, staring out the window facing his crib, mesmerized by the birds that darted among the branches of the oak tree on the other side of the double pane window, delighted by the occasional squirrel that shot up and down the trunk. In elementary school the playground monitors had spent more time drawing him back from the woods that lined the back edge  of the school’s property, trying to convince his eight- and nine-year-old self not to try to trap or tame the wildlife that lingered in this furthest reach of the wilderness, Illinois suburbia. In high school he had even fashioned for himself a sort of crude set of wings, complete with patagia, and he would have tested them from the garage roof, if his older brother hadn’t overheard and interceded. But in college, Fred had really let himself get swallowed up by this obsession with wildlife, and he followed a BS in animal husbandry with  a handful of years in veterinary school and a few years spent on a farm. Fred had been too busy keeping an eye on the wrens and the robins and the (much more prevalent) ravens, that he hadn’t noticed the raccoon until he had literally tripped over it, startling the creature into biting him in the calf.